The Role of Intuition and Perception in Decision Making under Time Constraint in Tournament Chess and Probability: J M Keynes and Herbert Simon

20 Pages Posted: 3 Sep 2020

See all articles by Michael Emmett Brady

Michael Emmett Brady

California State University, Dominguez Hills

Date Written: July 17, 2020


Keynes’s father, J N Keynes ,was a ranked and rated chess master in tournament chess who played first board in OTB (Over-The- Board) matches for Cambridge University in the late 1870’s and early 1880’s.J M Keynes undoubtedly learned how to play chess from his father. However, what he also learned was the important role that intuition and perception play in the OTB chess competition, but not in correspondence (postal) chess.

The nearly three hundred year old claim, originally made by J.Bentham , which is still the foundation for all classical ,neoclassical, new classical, and new neoclassical theories, is that decision makers are able to calculate an optimal numerical outcome and an optimal ,numerical probability, on which to base their future decisions (moves) in the game of life (chess) under no time constraint. Thus, the decision problem specified by Bentham is, by analogy, the type of situation faced in Correspondence or postal chess. This is also what F P Ramsey’s subjective approach to probability entails-There is no time constraint on the decision maker. Ramsey would have been a horrible (under 800 USCF) OTB chess player since he would lose all his games on time as his clock fell.

However, Ramsey’s approach would have made him a very formidable postal or correspondence chess player, where one has no effective time constraint and a player can search for the best, optimal move whereas OTB players are looking for a good (Simon’s satisfactory outcome) move based on their intuitive perception of their study of similar positions from chess theory and competitive experience, given the unclear and ambiguous positions that appear often in middle game situations on the chessboard.

Both Keynes and Simon understood that, in most situations on the chess (OTB) board, as well in the game of life, the operational time constraint makes it impossible to calculate a best or optimal outcome or probability over the board or in real life economic, political, and social decision problems or situations. However, it is possible to discover what is called a good or interesting move, which Simon characterized as a satisfying approach, as opposed to maximizing. I know of no tournament chess player in my lifetime of any rating, excluding those who have become academic economists and have turned their backs on the qualities they know were required to become a good chess player, so as to be in step with the Benthamite Utilitarian economist claim that all decision makers can calculate optimal or best decisions in the future, who believes that they can generally calculate precisely over the board.

Keywords: Imprecise Probability, Lower and Upper Bounds, Interval Valued Probability, Non Additive and Additive Probability

JEL Classification: B10, B12, B14, B16, B18, B20, B22

Suggested Citation

Brady, Michael Emmett, The Role of Intuition and Perception in Decision Making under Time Constraint in Tournament Chess and Probability: J M Keynes and Herbert Simon (July 17, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Michael Emmett Brady (Contact Author)

California State University, Dominguez Hills ( email )

1000 E. Victoria Street, Carson, CA
Carson, CA 90747
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics